Coronavirus lockdown: Some hope for those on the breadline

By Jenna Abaakouk April 19, 2020

The COVID-19 lockdown has brought – or exacerbated – the hardships felt by many on a daily basis. Here’s how two local restaurants are providing lunches for homeless people.

“Thanks to you we have something to eat and can eat lunch,” said one of the many grateful messages received by Natalia Carreño Pombo, co-owner of Chichería Demente restaurant. “We’re so grateful to you for sending us these plates of food every day.” 

With Bogotá’s quarantine in full force, life has become even more challenging for the city’s vulnerable communities, especially those living on the streets. While local authorities are providing some support, the crisis – which is both an economic and a health disaster – has further stretched already overloaded systems.

As Natalia explains, “The situation is going to continue to be a difficult one for those who are living day-to-day. For example, many people rely on recycling to collect enough money to pay for a bed for a night, but now with the city’s streets empty this is being made increasingly difficult.”

Which is why this project by bogotano restaurants Chichería Demente and El Chato has been met with such appreciation. Together, the two eateries are providing lunches for the 65 people who live in a hostel in the Siete de Agosto district. Natalia says the residents include “families, children, elderly citizens and young adults who have found themselves in challenging and far from comfortable conditions.” 

Chichería Demente and El Chato are taking it in turns to deliver one balanced meal per person per day. Typical lunches range from ajiaco to rice and chicken. 

El Chato and Chichería Demente invite people to help them provide food for some of the homeless shelters in 7 de agosto Bogotá. Photo: Facebook Chichería Demente.

The already precarious living situation faced by residents who are not receiving help from elsewhere has been compounded by the shutdown. With no people on the street, it is harder to get money from members of the public or recycling points nearby. And there’s an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, which could pass quickly in this small shared living space. 

Aside from financial difficulties, Natalia expresses her concerns about other problems that have been magnified. “We have heard of various cases of domestic abuse in which partners and family members have become aggressive.” And with everyone stuck inside, this leaves victims with nowhere to go.

Give with your mind

In some ways, providing lunches is a natural step for Chichería Demente. Helping those in need is at the core of the restaurant’s ethos. Located near the happening district of Quinta Camacho, Natalia explains it “has always aimed to support disadvantaged citizens.” She says, “Almost all [our] employees have been homeless or near-homeless at some stage”. 

In fact, she says the name Chichería Demente comes from their mission to “dar con propósito, dar con mente” – loosely translated, to give with intention, give with your mind.

A number of the employees are cycling to work to avoid the risks of infection from taking public transport, some coming from as far as Soacha. Natalia assures us that they are all taking preventative measures to help reduce the risk of infection. “We have a very strict routine of care and hygiene; our employees wear face masks, gloves, and disinfect their hands before and after delivering the meals.”

When asked if she thinks that they will be able to keep delivering food until the end of the quarantine, Natalia responds honestly, “We don’t know. We’re going to try our best, but we just don’t know.” 

However, she remains positive: “This is a time of solidarity and understanding. It’s a difficult time for us all but we are working together and hope that little by little things will improve and begin to take off again.”

How can you support the cause?

You can support Chichería Demente and El Chato in their project by placing an order for a COP$10,000 lunch. Go to the Chichería Demente facebook page or call them on 320 9373488 – 311 5611310. You can also order via Rappi and request to have it delivered to the housing. Support El Chato via facebook or Vaki here

Natalia says that, “For every meal donated, a note is signed, in order to give confirmation that the food has been successfully delivered and received.”